Monday, January 28, 2013

The Magic House

I have been in Magic Houses before. Mostly dead ones, like the one above, but even dead ones have that leftover scent of sincerity that sticks to the skin of trespassers, where you become more yourself just by the act of going through the doorway. There are studies that say walking through doorways causes you to forget what you were doing in the room before. This works regardless of whether the doorway is real or not, the studies used video games for part of the testing, which is a little frightening to think about, if you're a player of video games, how many doorways you've forced yourself through. What they theorize is that the brain uses doorways as a way to purge unnecessary information - whatever we were doing is no longer as high priority as what we are doing now. Each time you walk through a doorway, you are involuntarily leaving a small unknown part of yourself behind.

 Some people would see this as an excuse to design houses with no doorways. I see it as a reason to have as many doorways as possible. I bet Jerusalem is full of doorways.

 (Maybe it also means if, occasionally, you get the Pharisee's Song from Jesus Christ Superstar stuck in your head on repeat, you should find the nearest house built before 1940. All the houses I have ever lived in have been built before 1940. Think how many memories I've shed, like an overactive architectural metabolism.)

To get to the magic house Saturday night, we had to wait till Sunday morning. Sweetgrass didn't get off work till after midnight, then we had to pick up Mountain Goat and her prince, by the time we navigated the dark highways of North Carolina it was definitely and for sure the witching hour. The witching hour is not a made up thing. Well, it's sort of a made up thing, but then it's definitely the kind of made up thing that applies to woods after midnight, which after a few turns is where we ended up - bumping along down dirt roads, trying to read mailbox numbers, until we found the right dark dirt road, with tiny little lanterns lying along the edges of the tracks every few feet, small glow in the dark breadcrumbs. Even still, the lights led us to a few dead ends, a few more where the fuck are we's, before we turned up the right path. The trees broke and we found ourselves in the middle of a beautiful landscape of little hills, brightly lit up windows from tall darkened buildings, trampolines and paths through bushes, and a huge bonfire around which the surviving party guests were gathered in the biting January night air, the full moon gasping above us. And off, behind all of this, the big main house, gold light blazing from it's layers of windows, down the cobblestone driveway and up the garden stone path.

According to the friend who invited us, the owner had built it all himself. The entire compound was constructed of old thrown away things - dock wood and pvc pipes, boat keels, driftwood, salvaged stained glass. It was beautiful, in the way that Southern artists have of deliberately cluttering their spaces in soft things - soft light, soft wood, soft lovely thoughts.  In the Erie Wasteland, a place like this would have been built of rusty steel, concrete, bricks. North Carolina is not made of steel though, it's made of wood - their industries were furniture and lumber, their ruins are rotted living things, houses that have become forests, not hollowed out warehouse shells lying intact in ash. It's a little more gross, frankly, that everything rots here. I like the inanimate stones of my post industrial childhood, they seem cleaner and less full of bugs. I prefer sitting on their year round coldness, versus sitting on driftwood that might have lice. I'm a Yankee through and through, I'll probably for sure get asbestos poisoning. But I appreciate that the ruin is not as poisonous or permanent here - Nature purges too here, takes it all back, whatever the scavengers don't get to first. And I like touching old wood, it feels like old rail ties, it buzzes with past electricity.

Nothing was rotting in this house anyway, it was glowing and shiny with safeness, and there were lots of doorways. The inside of the big house was a museum, in every corner there was new painting to see, a new detail, a new angle of the ceiling to see, shoes and staircases and lights. Books. The guy who owned it had small children, and that's what this place was, this was their place, they were marked all over it even in their absence. His spell for them was painted outside and inside, it was a Never Never House, a jigsaw, a visual and literal playground. I stood outside on the main porch  smoking, drinking my keg beer, thinking that this was one way to do it - to build piece by piece an entire legacy estate, a place on the river where the kids would grow up and then come back to, and raise their children.  It didn't just feel like magic, it had been deliberately made to look like magic, to always look odd and singular and extraordinary. It was a movie set. It made me feel like I would do anything for someone who had built something like this. It's a power of people, creating things.

I think it must make everyone feel that way, just a little, because everyone in that house became just a little bit lovelier, a little more awake, a little more desiring to be entertaining.  That's how you know the spell is actually there, working behind the scenes of the beer and smoke, everyone tries to be themselves. Sweetgrass picked up a book from the coffee table, and in the first sentence she read, there was our conversation from last night, "Bridget, just read the first few sentences, that's exactly what you were talking about." The house made her eager to talk in its thrall. The sentence was about how when we fall in love, we are recognizing part of our original selves in another person. That was the opposite of what I had meant the night before, I was trying to say that we had no original self but millions of possibilities and past personalities, and we could fall in love a million matching times depending on where and when and who we are - therefore the idea of true love not being a lacking limiting thing but an endless always right around the corner thing, as long as we recognize what we become every time we walk through a doorway.

When I first walked into the house, there was an old white haired lady cleaning up in the kitchen. She immediately recruited me and the other girls into helping to clean up the food from the party, which we did without question even though we had just gotten there. So that says something about us. We all assumed she was a lady of the household, having no idea who actually lived there or who this Gatsby like builder was. She did not. She had merely assumed a position of authority being the oldest woman there - to clean up and be useful, though at the moment she was effectively doing neither. But the girls, we just stepped right in. I find that so comical, a group of girls dressed nice for a party. As if there was anything else you could do, please, if you walked into a house and found a woman cleaning the kitchen. Its physically painful to not try and help.  Later in the night, she played the grand piano drunkenly, an appropriate green light shining behind her. Later still she came stumbling out to the dying bonfire, and seeing the confusion and courtesy  in our eyes, started crying to Sweetgrass and I about the awfulness of her life - her daughter headed to prison, taking custody of her grandson, over and over again how her son was going to hate her forever for it. I had promised someone else I wouldn't let her fall in the fire, so I couldn't leave her side but then her hand was grasping at my hoodie, her watery eyes pulling my face closer to hers, begging to be told she had done the right thing. Then she wanted to be walked home, through the woods, to wherever her house was. She had a flashlight, but that would surely stay with her when she got home, and probably she would try to get me too, to smoke a cigarette, have a drink. There was no way I was doing it. I was not trying to walk back through woods I didn't know in the middle of the night after dropping a drunk lady off god knows where. The Builder was there now, at the fire with a pretty little hipster girl. I asked him, I made my helplessness clear, maybe. Finally he tried to walk her home, but there was no getting her through the intricate little paths of the property, and five minutes later she was back falling in front of the fire, looking for her cigarettes. I ran away, I didn't know what else to do. No, I knew sort of what to do. I just didn't want to do it. I had a sinking feeling walking back from the fire to the house that I had let it down, but walking in the front door, saw the cute farmer coming towards me, and was reminded magic isn't built from weakness.

The "DJ" of the party kept trying to play R&B for a roomful of drunk tiny white girls who wanted to dance. We stood in the corner and talked about politics.
I told my friend to have compassion for ignorance and evil actions, even when it was willful ignorance.
"People get paranoid because they feel the new tech leaving them behind, and they know the world they leave their children in will be completely different than the one they have planned for. We all know we're going to die, but we want to know what the world will look like after we die, and we used to have traditions we could believe in to use to understand the future, but now those traditions are gone. We have no idea what our children will even believe in. This brings with it a sense of apocalyptic doom, a quality of foreboding, and it causes people to manifest their fears as the end of the world, in extremist politics and religions, to believe in the fear mongering because it helps them express their own private fear of mortality." By the end of my logic, I halfway believed it myself.

By then the DJ had gotten it together, and all the girls - Lashes and Mountain Goat and Sweetgrass, the girl in the scarf, they were all dancing. It was 4am, and I had nothing left in me but to watch. I didn't want to make them leave ad go home, but I wanted to find a doggy bed somewhere in a corner of the room with the fireplace and the piano, and fall asleep on the floor in the green light, and also a few hours in that place had rendered me incapable of any more small talk. 12 hours earlier, at work, I had been in the same spot, a pressing need to be alone with my thoughts that had to be forced aside to smile at coworkers and customers. I thought about how in just a few hours I'd be headed to work again, and then to movie night, all the homework I had due Tuesday, and I had to work again all day Monday, which meant not going to open mic Monday night and staying up late to finish that suspense scene........there are not enough hours in the day to fulfill my "priorities" when sometimes you can't actually get to the magic places till after midnight. The doorway just isn't there.

At one point out by the fire I tried to ask about our host, and my friend shook me off with a look under his breath. After that I was too intimidated to be too curious, which only increased the fantastical things going through my head as I looked above me to catch the eaves of roofs, or the sharp shadows of trees against the  lit up windows of the carport that looked like a greenhouse, sitting back on the other side of the yard white and phosphorescent. I always manage to be in the vicinity of Gatsbys. Did the book make me that way? Or do I love the book because I can recognize parts of it? I'm a little afraid to reread Fitzgerald right now because of the whole Southern thing, and the whole rich thing of Wilmington.


  1. i know i was the one who needed talking to about giving ignorance a compassionate pass. was i also the under the breath look? because I am thinking it was probably just a really drunk look or maybe a "did you make noise? i don't know where I am look" great story bridget. lashes agrees.

    1. You totally were. I was like "is it not classy if I ask you what this guy does?" and you were like "yup". And I was like "shit, does he run an international murder ring?"

      Lashes wins Dancing Queen of the night. She was almost named Dancing Queen. But you came in close second.


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